On Monday the Kansas Legislature saw the introduction of House Bill 2790, “requiring the state fair board to issue a request for proposals from cities in Kansas to host the state fair.”
Just the thought that central Kansas might lose this wonderful asset created an outcry from people who live west of I-35, but by Thursday the bill was dead.
Another bill related to the Kansas State Fair at Hutchinson was introduced back on Feb. 8 and this one makes a lot of sense. Senate Bill 415 passed by a vote of 40-0 on Thursday. The bill introduced by Sen. Ed Berger (R-Hutchinson) would allow most of the sales tax collected at the fair to return to the fair for use on capital outlay projects such as new buildings and building maintenance.
The state sales tax is 6.5 percent. The Kansas Department of Transportation receives 1.5 percent of that, which the bill does not affect. The remaining 5 percent, which is about $420,000 a year, could be used on the fairgrounds for projects such as bringing the Bison Building — built in 1937 — up to code.
Bob Moeder, interim general manager of the Kansas State Fair, said the Legislature has shown willingness to help the cause but expects Hutchinson and Reno County to have some skin in the game. Those entities came through and agreed to do that with a letter of support that was read on the Senate floor on Thursday.
“That really helped the cause,” Moeder said. The bill still has to go to the House.
The state of Kansas deserves a premier state fair and the Kansas State Fair at Hutchinson deserves to continue. It is centrally located and it is a venue that has seen years of investment and tradition. Every year, 332,000 people visit the fair. On top of that, the fair is important to the agricultural community in particular, and that makes it especially important to the Golden Belt.
Currently, the Kansas State Fair is limited by statute to putting $300,000 a year into a capital fund. Senate Bill 415 allows the state to provide more meaningful support — using money that is generated by the fair itself. It also represents a successful nudge from the Legislature; Reno County needs to support the fair financially as well.